Political Animal


September 22, 2011 12:35 PM Obama and Perry, geese and ganders

By Steve Benen

The New York Times has an item this morning about tonight’s Republican debate, and it featured this Getty Images photograph, taken before the start of last week’s debate.

It wouldn’t be especially interesting, except I also remember seeing this photograph several hundred times four years ago.

With the latter image, then-candidate Barack Obama explained he puts his hand over his heart for the Pledge of Allegiance, but sings during the National Anthem. It seemed entirely reasonable, and hardly worth a fuss. Nevertheless, those desperate to paint Obama as somehow less American used the image to question his patriotism. It was an ugly and offensive smear campaign — the effort to define Obama as The Other has never entirely gone away — and this one photograph was included in countless chain emails.

And yet, there’s that shot of Perry. I can’t speak to the context — whether it was during the Pledge or the Anthem is unclear just by looking at it — but note the similarities. In the 2007 picture, Hillary Clinton and Bill Richardson are seen with their hands on their hearts, but Obama has his hands at his side. In the 2011 picture, Michele Bachmann and Mitt Romney have their hands on their hearts, but Rick Perry has his hands at his side.

This leaves me curious. Will the picture of the Republican candidates lead to widespread questions about Perry’s patriotism? Will be it be shown, over and over again, on cable news? Will the Texas governor be asked for an explanation?

Or is there some quality about Perry and Obama that makes the former’s patriotism beyond reproach and the latter’s suspect?

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.


Post a comment
  • Old School on September 22, 2011 12:40 PM:

    Obviously, flag pin = patriotism.

  • c u n d gulag on September 22, 2011 12:43 PM:

    I think that without an HDTV, or even a color one, that the difference would be obvious even on an old Philco "Black & White" 17 inch diagonal.

  • DAY on September 22, 2011 12:45 PM:

    I always put one hand over my heart, AND salute with the other- just in case some no good commie papparazzi is lurking in the weeds.

  • Jose Hipants on September 22, 2011 12:45 PM:

    But Perry looks so Presidential.

  • Chris J on September 22, 2011 12:47 PM:

    "Or is there some quality about Perry and Obama that makes the former�s patriotism beyond reproach and the latter�s suspect?"

    Rhetorical question, I assume.

  • scott_m on September 22, 2011 12:57 PM:

    DAY says
    I always put one hand over my heart, AND salute with the other- just in case some no good commie papparazzi is lurking in the weeds.

    If Obama tried that, FoxNews would go on for days about how Obama saluted the flag with his left hand. And what was he doing with right hand? Preparing some terrorist fist jab?

  • T2 on September 22, 2011 12:57 PM:

    "is there some quality about Perry and Obama that makes the formers patriotism beyond reproach and the latters suspect?"
    Let me see....Perry has openly discussed secession and Obama has not. That makes Perry more patriotic - as president of the Confederate States of America.

  • square1 on September 22, 2011 12:59 PM:

    I personally find questions about patriotism to be idiotic. It would never occur to me to accuse my most hated political adversary of being unpatriotic. People love their own countries. Big deal. Being patriotic is an achievement like loving one's own children is an achievement.

    Or is there some quality about Perry and Obama that makes the formers patriotism beyond reproach and the latters suspect?

    I will say this. As phony, stupid, and pandering as Republican flagwaving may be, you have to admit that they work at it. Nobody is going to accuse Perry of being unpatriotic because Rick Perry is going to spend 50,000 hours between now and the GOP primaries convincing voters that he is "An American."

    For better (as I would argue) or worse, Obama didn't and doesn't put in the time engaging in meaningless patriotic symbolism. That might make him less of a douchebag, but it also makes him more prone to attacks on his patriotism. It isn't all media bias and racism.

    An aside, I thought the most intersting aspect of the Obama photo was the perspective that made Hilary look like a Lilliputian.

  • sue on September 22, 2011 12:59 PM:

    I have a theory that the size of a man's shoulder pads is inversely related to the size of his brain-and possibly some other important parts- any comment?

  • SadOldVet on September 22, 2011 1:03 PM:


    c u n d gulag on September 22, 2011 12:43 PM:

    I think that without an HDTV, or even a color one, that the difference would be obvious even on an old Philco "Black & White" 17 inch diagonal.

    You beat me to what I was going to write; except with greater wit, humor, & sarcasm than I would have managed!

    Great comment!!!

  • maryQ on September 22, 2011 1:05 PM:

    Of course there is! Rick Perry is an Aggie. Barack Obama went to Columbia and Harvard. Everyone knows that Aggies are true patriots and Ivy Leaguers hate America.

  • c u n d gulag on September 22, 2011 1:05 PM:

    Thanks, but you know the old saying - even a blind pig finds a truffle every once in awhile! :-)

  • RepublicanPointOfView on September 22, 2011 1:06 PM:

    Everyone knows that all republicans are patriotic and all dems are un-American!

    I am definite proof of this because I put at least 3 Chinese made Support Our Troops bumper stickers on each of my SUVs.

  • Califlander on September 22, 2011 1:09 PM:

    Will the picture of the Republican candidates lead to widespread questions about Perry's patriotism? Will be it be shown, over and over again, on cable news? Will the Texas governor be asked for an explanation?

    AHAhahahahahha! Asked by who, our corporate media?

    Or is there some quality about Perry and Obama that makes the former's patriotism beyond reproach and the latter's suspect?

    The difference between the two is as plain as black and white.

  • Dennis on September 22, 2011 1:12 PM:

    It's real simple. Perry will get a free pass from the radical right because he is a conservative Republican. That's all you need to know.

  • ProudAmerican on September 22, 2011 1:15 PM:

    This picture appears to have been alerted. You can see Ron Paul next Rick Perry with his right hand at his side.

  • TheOtherJim on September 22, 2011 1:18 PM:

    "Or is there some quality about Perry and Obama that makes the former's patriotism beyond reproach and the latter's suspect?"

    I think you may be on to something. There is some difference between Perry and Obama, something I can't quite put my finger on at the moment... Height? Naw, can't be that. Hair color? Well... they both have dark hair. Ah, well, never mind. I'll think of what it is sooner or later.

  • bdop4 on September 22, 2011 1:37 PM:

    My $.02: It doesn't look like anyone is speaking in either picture, so I'de say both were the national anthem.

    Either way, it's immaterial to me.

  • Anonymous on September 22, 2011 1:39 PM:

    square1 misses the gentle point that maryQ slows down to and circles .

    Since Michael Dukakis ran for president it has been the not so subtle part of the right wing to present Democrats and the Democratic Party as non human .

    I may have overlooked somethings since the single most important religious right wing policy discovery . In its grinding poverty of thought I may have missed a reference of Clinton's murderous rampages , or Gore's reliance on certifiably proven nonsense , with the courage of a girls drama club , John Kerry's alien windsurfing and ability to communicate with , dare I say it ? French folks speaking in ... French . Aside from the pal-ling around with anti American horrors , Barack Obama and his spooky Sec of State have not only disgraced American policy with ostentatious paper clip placement , open contempt for civilization with brazen button-less breast baring , and countless episodes of consideration of constancy to promises !
    How can Americans consider leading Democrats to be humans if they actually are thoughtful , fact based , modest , and worst of all consistent with promises ?
    Pshaw !
    Humans are weak , depraved , lying , spineless , critturs who will seek any momentary or tactical advantage without an airy fairy thought to tomorrow . That is becuz we are the richest strongest smahtest fastest fightingest betray you or the last statement I made in an eyelashed second if it serves to keep the alien non human types outtha power .

  • jeri on September 22, 2011 1:45 PM:

    Does Perry have some kind of inflatable balloon inserted in his chest that he can pump up before he walks out on stage? I haven't seen a chest stick out this far since Jayne Mansfield (look it up). GWB did it too; must be a Texas thing. These guys don't even walk like normal humans.

  • Ian A on September 22, 2011 1:51 PM:

    The difference between Perry and Obama is that Perry has been unfairly discriminated against as a white man all his life. How's a non-minority supposed to get anywhere in our society these days? Therefore, he gets the Fauxnews break on this!

  • OKDem on September 22, 2011 1:52 PM:

    "Session is an Option" Perry only puts his hand on his heart for "Dixey"?

  • Another Steve on September 22, 2011 2:07 PM:

    Why would a secessionist ever salute the hated flag of the so-called United States?

  • FRP on September 22, 2011 2:10 PM:

    The booschies are from the great north east kingdom .
    Last I checked , when they weren't Pal-ling around with right wing types in Germany circa 1930's - early 40's .
    They may claim , as any self respecting American blowhard should , that they are sumpin' that they ain't , but as the song goes - It ain't necessarily so .
    If there is any doubt about the willingness of the Booschie family to afflict the desperate , while coddling the comfortable , pinch me !
    Thank you

  • T2 on September 22, 2011 2:11 PM:

    But MaryQ, George W. Bush was an Ivy Leaguer.....nobody questioned his patriotism....even when he was sending US men and women to their death in a trumped up Iraq War.

  • JD on September 22, 2011 2:16 PM:

    "Or is there some quality about Perry and Obama that makes the formers patriotism beyond reproach and the latters suspect?"

    Hey, Steve, are you referring to their race?

    Can't get anything by me.

  • LL on September 22, 2011 2:31 PM:

    Steve. Are you implying that our nativist, know-nothing Right is also racist!? I can't imagine you'd even hint at such a thing. Who would have thought?

  • Mutaman on September 22, 2011 2:56 PM:

    I don't recall anyone questioning Obama's patriotism during the primary, much less "an ugly and offensive smear campaign". How about some evidence in support of this statement.

  • jhill on September 22, 2011 2:57 PM:

    I was just reading Patrick Leigh Fermor's wonderful "A Time of Gifts." He recalls a statue of a dead brownshirt leader in Munich (in 1933), in a public square. It was wise to do the stiff-arm "Sieg Heil" salute as you passed, or tough guys might beat you up. Now I'm worried, because nobody ever told me to put my hand on my heart for the national anthem. You take your hat off. You sing. What is this nonsense? Hand on heart was the classroom posture for the pledge of allegiance.

  • Mitch on September 22, 2011 3:01 PM:

    In the one picture, Rick Perry is standing at attention while the National Anthem is being played.

    In the other photo, Barack Obama is kind of standing with his hands in front of him, kind of like a dork.

    Big difference.

  • m2 on September 22, 2011 3:07 PM:

    the difference is that Rick Perry has no nipples.

    and I would not say that Obama's hands are at his side.

  • David on September 22, 2011 3:22 PM:

    Hate to say it, but Democrats shouldn't be eager to compare the two photos. A quick bodily-linguistic analysis will show why.

    I agree with the previous commenter that while Rick Perry isn't covering his heart, his hands are at his sides and at a slightly slanted angle from hips: they're not simply hanging there, but ready to move and get into action. When combined with a head that's slightly cocked upward and a chest that seems to be pushed toward, his hands enhance a look of energy and virility.

    Obama's hands, well, are in front of his crotch. Experts in body language will tell you to a man that hands in front of the crotch signal insecurity and fear. Obama's shoulders are also drooping and his lefts are pointing outward at wide angles that doesn't bespeak energy or vigor. Although Obama's head is in a solemn, confident pose, I can easily understand why a lot of people might read this photo as evidence of Obama's effeminacy or weakness.

    Most experts say that body language accounts for well over half of the communication that people take away from an encounter. Even though Perry replicates Obama's alleged faux-pas, I wouldn't expect Democrats to get nearly the propaganda mileage out of this picture that Republicans will get out of Obama's.

  • Herschel on September 22, 2011 3:43 PM:

    @Mutaman: If you don't remember anyone questioning Obama's patriotism during the 2008 campaign, you couldn't have been paying attention. Try a google search with the terms 2008 obama anthem heart, and you'll soon get the flavor of it.

  • holger danske on September 22, 2011 4:02 PM:

    So you '...can�t speak to the context � whether it was DURING the Pledge or the Anthem is unclear just by looking at it." well. let me help you out there. I took the trouble of going over to the Getty Images website and they still have 41 photos of that debate posted. Only one has Perry and Paul (partialy cropped out by NYT) with their hands at their sides. Two other photos show both with their right hand on their hearts. Evidently the photo the NYT's chose and that you're comment on depicted the candidates BEFORE the Pledge or the Anthem. Can you make the same claim for the photo showing Obama cupping his junk in 2008? Not according to his campaign's defense of his act. Among the 41 photos on Getty there are also several that would have better portrayed all of the candidates accompanying an article on tonight's debate. Curious that the NYT would chose that one? I think not. That wouldn't fit their or your narrative would they? Tell me, Steve are you being dishonest or just lazy here?

  • Mutman on September 22, 2011 4:06 PM:

    Herschel: That not the way it works. You make the statement- you provide the links. You don't tell me to do the research. Thats the way the right wing does things and I'm sad to see progressives acting in the same manner.

  • John M on September 22, 2011 4:06 PM:

    Perry looks like he's standing loosely at attention. Perry served his country, wasn't raised overseas, and never claimed to be a citizen of the world, so why would people doubt his patriotism?

  • Zorro on September 22, 2011 4:27 PM:

    Rick Perry has raised the possibility of secession; that, in and of itself, should cause one to severely question his patriotism.


  • kevin on September 22, 2011 4:40 PM:

    um did you just wake up from a coma cause it was pretty much said throughout the campaign he wasn't a true american.

  • Tom Maguire on September 22, 2011 5:01 PM:

    As to Holger Danske's note (4:02 PM) that photo selection by the Times is critical - good point!

    Here is the Daily Beast with a Getty photo of all eight candidates at the Tampa debate; the Denver Post went with a mere five. In each instance, everyone has their hand over their heart in a conventional pledge pose.

    As to how the Times got their photo, who can say? Maybe someone with TiVo and two much free time can establish that Perry was slow to the mark in elevating his hand (Paul was slow, too). As to why the Times chose it, well...

    Perhaps we can also agree that Steve was slow to the mark in doing his homework.

  • Jim Graves on September 22, 2011 6:00 PM:

    Instead of covering for Obama perhaps Steve should have checked the Getty Images on line. Photo 124755593 taken a few seconds after the one in this article shows all the candidates assuming the proper stance.

    I'm sure the photo choice was mere chance!

  • newtons.third on September 22, 2011 7:15 PM:

    "is there some quality about Perry and Obama that makes the formers patriotism beyond reproach and the latters suspect?"

    Ooh, ooh I know! One guy has a blue shirt and no tie, the other has a white shirt and a tie. That must be it. We all know that the "no tie" people hate whatever country that they might be from. And don't get me started on the "blue shirts".

  • southpaugh on September 22, 2011 8:03 PM:

    Since becoming governor, 235 people have gone to Texas to harm children and kill police officer which earned them persecu...I mean, prosecution to the fullest extent of the law: They were put to death. That's because the American people understand justice. And, they understand that Perry is one of them because he never has trouble sleeping over the unknown number of executed inmates during Perry's tenure who might have been innocent. Perry kills The Other who are necessarily bad guys, even if, maybe, they really aren't.

    Obama wants poor people to have health care and not have to eat dog food to survive or die from lack of heat during winter. He wants to take away the freedom of making the wrong choice that ends in not having health insurance or losing your home. He wants to take away your boss's freedom to pay your wife or girlfriend less than he pays you, or refuse to promote women or hire darkies and people with accents and turbans. Obama wants rich people to pay more income tax in return for their business use of roads, police protection, firefighters, sanitation, clean water, electricity, education for people who aren't rich or whose parents are undocumented who the rich guys hire, in turn, to help them make more money that won't go to income taxes or to employees salaries and (especially not) benefits. That's just weird. That's not real American. That's socialist. That's the Other, just not like us.

    Perry knows who his friends are. Perry's friends know who he is, no matter what he does with his hands during the Pledge or Anthem.

  • Steve Paradis on September 22, 2011 10:10 PM:

    Perry has to keep his hands at his sides--in case he has to DRAW HIS GUNS and DEFEND AMERICA.

  • Anonymous on September 23, 2011 2:07 AM:

    I think Perry puffs out AND wears a girdle. This is something I usually don't get into although I made an exception for Cheney after a mini-VP debate way back when (he was absolutely freakishly soul-less looking to me).

    Perry gives me a creepy feeling. It's not quite as sinister as Cheney, but it is freakish. I can't really explain it. But, I stand by my guess that he wears some kind of girdle contraption... or something.

  • LA Crystal on September 23, 2011 2:09 AM:

    That ^ Anonymous was me. Sorry - quick trigger finger.

  • Linda on September 23, 2011 9:39 AM:

    Someday our backward country might wake up to the fact that patriotism has absolutely nothing to do with flags or hands or hearts or even unsingable songs. Those things are trifles, easily faked. They say nothing about the love of country in the head and the heart. The divisions in this country about the meaning of patriotism run much deeper. Is government a necessary but inevitably flawed evil, to be mistrusted except in the case of criminal prosecution or the military, in which case it is infallible? Or, is it possible that on occasion a government official might be mistaken, or even malicious, so we need protections like the fourth, fifth and sixth amendments? Do the commerce clause or the "general welfare" provision or the fourteenth amendment apply tp our national conversation, or does constitutional analysis stop with the second half of the second amendment? Is freedom just about keeping as much money as possible from taxation, or might it also involve preventing the religious from using government to impose theirmbeliefs on everybody else? Loving this country is about loving our written social contract, the Constitution, including all of it's amendments.